KIEV (AFP) - Pro-Western and nationalist parties swept Ukraine's parliamentary election on Sunday, exit polls showed, in a boost for President Petro Poroshenko's anti-corruption reforms and attempts to end a war with pro-Russian rebels.
The results pointed to overwhelming consensus on Ukraine's bid to steer from Russia's orbit on a pro-Western path eventually targeting European Union membership.
The snap election came eight months after a street revolt overthrew Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych, sparking conflict with Russia and a crisis in relations between the Kremlin and Ukraine's Western allies.
The polls were called to clear out the last vestiges of Yanukovych's regime - and to some extent this was achieved.
For the first time since the Soviet collapse the Communist Party, which used to support Yanukovych, failed to clear the minimum level of votes for entering parliament.
However, in a vivid sign of ongoing divisions, the Opposition Bloc, made up of Yanukovych associates, got into the legislature with 7.6 per cent of the vote.
The Petro Poroshenko Bloc led with 23 per cent of the vote, meaning the president will have to seek a coalition partner. That will most likely be the People's Front group of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, which was runner up with 21 per cent.
Four other parties entered parliament under the proportional representation voting, all of them either nationalist or supporting Western-style reforms, the two exit polls from respected surveys showed.
Half of the parliament seats are allocated to parties through proportional representation. The other half go to individual candidates and because the counting of those races takes longer, it could still be some time before the final make-up of the legislature becomes clear.
After casting his own ballot Sunday, Poroshenko declared: "Today we have a new Ukraine." "I hope it will be possible to form a strong, pro-European democratic coalition," he said.
But the war with pro-Russian rebels in the industrial east, in which 3,700 people have died, and Russia's earlier annexation of the southern Crimean region, cast a long shadow.
Voters in Crimea and in separatist-controlled areas of the eastern Lugansk and Donetsk provinces - about five million of Ukraine's 36.5 million-strong electorate - were unable to cast ballots.
Even 25,000 soldiers deployed in the war zone were shut out, Poroshenko said, blaming the outgoing parliament for failing to make provisions. Twenty-seven seats in the 450-seat parliament will remain empty.
Dressed in camouflage, Poroshenko helicoptered in for a surprise visit to Kramatorsk, a government-held town in the heart of the conflict zone. The dramatic gesture was clearly meant to show that the beleaguered region has not been forgotten.
"Today on territory liberated by Ukrainian servicemen they will vote for the European future of our country," Poroshenko said in nationally televised remarks.
However, the disenfranchisement of the separatist areas and Crimea seemed likely to further cement the once peaceful, now bloody faultline between Ukraine's Russian-speaking east and Ukrainian-speaking west.
After casting a vote for the radical nationalist Svoboda party in the capital Kiev, Tatyana Kryshko, 75, reflected the generally grim mood.
"I know things will be hard financially. I think that we won't live to see a rich and strong Ukraine, but that our children and grandchildren will," she said.
Despite widespread support for a more democratic, less corrupt political system, not everyone agrees how to resolve battles with the separatists in the east or how to deal with Russia's takeover of Crimea.
A Moscow-backed truce signed by Kiev and the separatists on September 5 has calmed the worst fighting, although there are daily violations around the largest rebel-held city Donetsk.
Insurgent leaders, who are not allowing polling stations to open in their areas, have announced their own leadership vote, which Kiev does not recognise, on November 2.
Poroshenko insisted this week that there can be "no military solution" to the conflict with pro-Russian rebels and renewed his pledge to seek a political compromise.
That message was likely to be welcomed by Ukrainians alarmed at the prospect of open-ended war against shadowy forces that most people here believe are backed by Russia, although Moscow denies this.
But Poroshenko's softer line could meet resistance in the new parliament, where deputies are set to include members of hardline nationalist groups and soldiers turned politicians.
In Kiev, Tamara Kovalko, 62, said she had voted for one of the country's best known nationalist firebrands, Yulia Tymoshenko, because "she's a strong leader - she can take care of the east."
The new parliament will have broad new powers that include the right to name the prime minister and most of his cabinet.